Dre Bly is preaching to the young cornerbacks he coaches at the University of North Carolina what he practiced playing for the Tar Heels and in 11 seasons in the NFL that included four with the Detroit Lions.
"Catch the ball."
In words and action, Bly stresses that in every practice.
He has the stats and accomplishments – a Super Bowl ring with the Rams and two Pro Bowls with the Lions – that show that what worked for him can work for the players he coaches.
"If you've got ball skills, if you're starting, I think you should have three or four tips and over throws and at least three or four picks a year," Bly said in a telephone interview from his office at Chapel Hill.
"I have a ball in every drill. I've been in a lot of practices – a lot of defensive back camps. A lot of defensive back coaches don't have balls in drills."
Bly uses a surprise element in practice so his players know that a ball could be coming when they don't expect it.
"I throw balls to my guys when they're stretching," Bly said. "When it happens in the game, it's a surprise moment."
The proof is in production on the field, and the Tar Heels showed improvement last season with 14 interceptions, seven more than they had in 2018.
Wherever Bly played – in college or with four NFL teams in a pro career that included his four-year stint with the Lions (2003-06) – his sticky hands allowed him to generate turnovers at an elite level.
As a red shirt freshman in 1996 he had 13 interceptions – 11 in the regular season and two in a bowl game. He had 22 picks in three seasons before turning pro and entering the 1999 draft.
Bly's prowess continued in the NFL. When the ball was in the air, he went after it like he was the intended receiver. He had 42 career interceptions, 20 forced fumbles and 12 fumble recoveries.
He had 14 interceptions with the Rams, where he played four seasons, and 19 in four years with the Lions after signing as a free agent in 2003.
Bly was primarily a backup in his first three seasons with the Rams and a starter in 2002. The Rams were Super Bowl champions in his rookie season and lost to the Patriots and Tom Brady in his third season.
Bly had his greatest individual success with the Lions. He was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2003 and '04, and again in 2005 but declined to go for personal reasons.
Bly was traded to the Broncos in 2007. After two years there he finished up his career with one season with the 49ers.
He joined North Carolina's staff last year when Mack Brown returned as head coach. Brown was Bly's original coach at North Carolina.
Bly, 42, had a close relationship with Brown as a player and wanted to be part of his staff. Bly and his wife, Kristy, have four sons and a daughter.
View photos of the defensive backs working out at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
Playing on the Rams' star-studded Super Bowl teams was a career highlight for Bly, as it would be for any player.
But he has a special feeling for his stay in Detroit – for the reputation he earned on a personal level, and the city's passion.
"When I came to Detroit, I became more of a leader," Bly said. "I grew up. It made me more of a man. I had a blast in Detroit. You take away the losses, and my experience in Detroit was amazing. It made me learn how to lead a little bit.
"The passion in Detroit is one of a kind. As much as we struggled, our games were still sold out. People were fired up and motivated to go to football games. It's something that makes Michigan special and makes the Lions special.
"I tell people all the time that they have the wrong perception of Detroit. Detroit has great restaurants. It's the Motor City – Motown. You've got great shows ... great entertainment."